POP / Fight to give up a seat: The Dirty Dozen - Bath Festival

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The Independent Online
Somewhere, there must exist the perfect jazz festival band, producing wonderful, innovative music, uniting all the disparate factions of the audience, and ending their set by getting everyone to dance; until they are found, the Dirty Dozen will continue to get a lot of bookings.

By the climax of this show, the soulless barn of Bath Pavilion was pulsing with life as the band pumped out the funk, and their leader brought a succession of young women on to the stage to, er, shake it. It was, bar the shaking, a throwback to one of the first performances of jazz in this country, when a Times reviewer commented that: 'The fever spread throughout the theatre until every last man and woman was on his feet, shouting and clapping in a manner that was peculiarly un-British.' And if innovation was mostly on hold in favour of the feelgood factor, this is normally a fair enough exchange for a festival. An air of premeditation did colour the performance, though; this is, after all, what the Dirty Dozen do every night.

Having started out as a street band in New Orleans, the Dirty Dozen transfer brilliantly to big-time stages. They may not actually march any more, but even standing still they use up a lot of energy and keep to the ambulant instrumentation of their funeral-chasing forebears, sousaphone replacing stand- up bass and two drummers sharing a kit between them.

Indeed, their theme tune could be 'Get Up, Stand Up', so strongly do they insist on the audience dancing. This can and does lead to problems; after all, if you've paid over a tenner for a good seat, you may be reluctant to leave it almost as soon as you've sat down. But when those in front start to boogie on cue, you have to join in or settle for a radio experience - not the band's strong suit. Intriguingly, festival promoters seem to take great store by setting out rows of seats for Dirty Dozen gigs, only to see them abandoned for the bulk of each show.

Once the crowd is up on its feet, the band are (as it were) playing at home and at least a goal up. Out come the proven crowd pleasers, the audience participation starts and the heavy funk. For the portions of the set when the audience stick to their chairs, they have devised an interesting repertoire of heritage-style New Orleans music, covering Jelly Roll Morton with canny arrangements that tend to feature their best player, the baritone and soprano saxophonist Roger Lewis.

That the rest of the group are not quite up to Lewis's standard is increasingly evident, and, as if in agreement with this, the Dozen (actually an octet) try all the harder to get us on our feet again. The first half passes like a game of musical chairs; up for the stompers, down for the blues and ballads. After the break, they do it all again. This may not show much regard for conventional dynamics but as long as it works, you can bet they ain't going to fix it.

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